If you’re anywhere in Greece this week you’ve certainly noticed the Greek flags flying. Like everywhere in the world, a country’s independence day calls for celebration. Greece is no different, and in fact, Greek Independence Day is celebrated beyond the capital, across the country – and across the ocean in cities and towns with large Greek descent populations (although some cities, like Chicago, delay their celebration until they can be sure the weather warms up!)
But in Greece by late March the poppies and wildflowers are blooming and parades fill the streets of the capital, Athens and the city’s second city, Thessaloniki. Meanwhile, elsewhere in Greece the folk customs sometimes begin the night before Independence Day:
- In Epirus in Northern Greece, children run into the fields, tapping pots or other cooking utensils. The noise is supposed to drive away the snakes as they wake up from hibernation. The fear of the snakes also makes the young people in Elatochori of Pieria going from home to home by having bells hanging on their necks, holding small fires. They ring the bells loudly, make a deafening noise and then gather in the village square around a bonfire, while there is a big feast with dances and songs.
- In the village of Faraklada on the island of Kefalonia, bread, oil and wine are placed in a well in the church of Evangelistria. After the end of the church service, the bread is shared among the people, while the oil and the wine remain in the church. In the evening, there is a feast where they share pies like aliada, bakalaopita and kefisopita, all of them similar, made with a lot of love, or as the Greeks say, meraki!
- Another interesting custom is found on the island of Skiathos, where the day ends with the Lampadiforia (“carrying of the candles”) when people of all ages fill the streets carrying large and small candles. The custom originates from the years of Ottoman domination, paralleling the Holy Light of the candles to the light of freedom people so eagerly wanted. It is on this day that the children choose to take of their Martis, the bracelet they’ve made out of red and white string in order to keep the bad spirits away, and hang them on trees, where the swallowtails (the birds symbolizing purity) will take them.
If you are lucky enough to be in Greece on the 25th of March, be sure to seek out a parade or plan on heading to a village somewhere in Greece where the celebration takes on its own local flavor.
You are certain to find wherever you go that every part of Greece has their own customs, always including a friendly gathering, good food and wine, and a warm welcome for the stranger.